Fleet News

LCV's face to face: Steve Kimber, director commercial vehicles, Ford

IT’S hard to imagine that life could be any better for Steve Kimber at present. His wife has just given birth to his second daughter and he’s just been appointed director – commercial vehicles for Ford of Britain at a time when a new Ford Transit has just been launched.

Kimber replaces the much-loved and well-respected Gary Whittam, who during his time as Ford’s CV chief laid the groundwork for the launch of the new panel van in June.

So – Fleet Van asked him – will it be a case of ‘steady as she goes’ while he gets his feet under his new desk? Not a bit of it.

Kimber said: ‘A steady-as-she-goes approach in what is an extremely competitive market place is no longer an option for anyone. I will be building on all the work that has gone before to ensure our vehicles remain competitive and continue to meet as many of our customers’ needs as I can, to enable us to grow our business.

‘It’s an exciting time to be joining the Ford CV team again, as by the end of the year we will have replaced or updated our entire commercial vehicle range from the introduction of the Fiesta Sport Van through the new Transit Connect and Ranger to, of course, the new Transit.’

Ford has been Britain’s biggest LCV manufacturer by a mile for many years but the rivals have been chipping away at its market share recently. Does Kimber think Ford can hang on to its huge lead or is it inevitable that the rivals will start catching up?

He said: ‘The gap in the market is definitely closing and that’s good for consumers. Of course we watch the evolution of the competition although Transit is still the best business decision for service, maintenance and repair let alone choice, durability and dependability.’

It’s undoubtedly an exciting time to take on such a role and Kimber outlined his marketing strategy for the new Transit.

He said: ‘It’s a fascinating time for me because a few years ago I was the one deciding what the Transit of the future needed to deliver. To now be responsible for bringing that van into the market is closing the circle.

‘It’s a great challenge, if not just because of the fast evolving competition, but one of my main interests will be in looking after our fleet customers. However the main area of growth for us is likely to be with the smaller companies or sole operators looking for a workhorse.

‘So, plumbers, electricians, builders, heating engineers and anyone you have to call on to work on your home, will be the business people I want to talk to and to show them the benefits of Transit that our fleet customers know so well.’

The latest edition of Glass’s Guide had this to say about the new Transit: ‘Van buyers now have such an impressive array to choose between that the UK market could possibly fracture into more identifiable segments where a Citroen Relay, Ford Transit or Mercedes-Benz Sprinter would not even be considered for the same contract, although each is capable of performing the same task. Here the choice would be the Sprinter and Volkswagen Crafter in the top slot, followed closely by the impressive new Ford Transit that would hold the majority of the middle ground and lastly vans such as the LDV Maxus and Fiat Ducato flying the ‘value-for-money’ banner.’

Kimber said: ‘It’s fascinating when you look back over time how, like the car market, the CV market has gradually evolved into the segments we have today.

‘I don’t see this process of evolution ever going away, but generally those segments are defined broadly by customer use, principally payload and customer application – buses, chassis, pick-ups etc. I don’t see further segmentation in panel vans as described. There will always be customer choice based on price, overall cost of ownership and a particular van’s fit for purpose versus the job in hand.’

Fleet Van was disappointed that Ford had not followed Mercedes-Benz’s and Volkswagen’s lead and made ESP traction control a standard fitment on new Transit. We asked Kimber why this was not done and did he think this alone put Transit behind Sprinter and Crafter?

He said: ‘We wanted to give the customer choice. In the philosophy we apply when we design all our cars and vans, the way they drive and handle is a critical element and receives a great deal of detailed attention to ensure they are both satisfying to drive, and safe and comfortable.

‘With Transit we paid detailed attention to ensure the vehicle handles as consistently as possible whether it be laden, part laden or empty. This applies whether ESP traction control is chosen by the customer or not. ESP traction control is standard fitment on our higher output engines, but is available as an option on the lower-powered Transits. This enables customers to make their own choice.’

There is more and more talk in the industry about tachographs being made a compulsory fitment in vans down to 2.8 tonnes. Does Kimber think this will happen and does he agree it should happen?

He said: ‘There are some elements of tachographs that bring with them good things to ensure vans are run professionally. However as always there is a balance with over-regulation.

‘I clearly agree with the need to have van fleets run proficiently and professionally but not sure tachos for sub 3.5-tonnes is necessarily the right way to go to achieve these benefits – in some respects it is something of a sledgehammer to crack a nut approach.’

Fact file

  • Name: Steve Kimber
  • Job title: Director - commercial vehicles, Ford Motor Company
  • Brief career history: Joined Ford in 1987 from BOC Gases, as a sales zone manager in Scotland. From there, moved to Warley to do a number of roles in marketing and fleet sales, before joining the commercial vehicle team in the lead-up to launching the last model Transit. Then moved to become commercial vehicle product planner for Ford of Europe, working on the early development of the new Transit. Following three years running aftermarket field team, moved across to current role in April.
  • Favourite book: No particular favourite. I only seem to get really lost in a book when I’m on holiday.
  • Favourite film: Any of the James Bond films.
  • Hobbies: Building and racing kit cars, mountain biking and skiing.
  • What three records would you take to a desert island? Anything by Eric Clapton, U2 and Keane.
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